In response to Joanne Hageman’s letter published Oct 3, 2019 in the San Pedro Valley News-Sun:
The Council does not lack transparency. What I have found is that there is a lack of understanding in how to communicate to your local representatives. I also find assumptions and false statements in Ms. Hageman’s letter. For one she stated that others have written letters and they have gone unanswered. I have not received a single letter asking me specific questions. I have read letters addressed to several people at once and CC’d (carbon copied) to several reporters in Tucson and one in Sierra Vista. This makes it sound like the council members are ignoring the letters of concerned citizens and residents of the City of Benson. This is simply not true.
The Villages at Vigneto will have a positive impact to our recent declining economy and quality of life. The annual reports that Dr. Carrara, a retired economist from the Cochise College, who tracked the economic trends; found that we had a 3.5 – 4% loss of our population and income per household in Cochise County since the 2008 housing market crash. That was a result of the national recession. This economic downturn is something that community leaders continue to address. We have discussed several issues such as the possible effect that El Dorado’s development will have, what the downtown revitalization needs are, how to attract tourists our beautiful valley, what opportunity zones might mean to new startups and the community quality of life. No community is ever stagnant it is either growing or it is in decline. Our economy has been on the losing side for some time now. It is just recently that it has picked up some. These are among several elements that help investors take into consideration before they put their money into a community. The groundbreaking of this development will affect the future of our city. We are looking for good jobs and new opportunities for our children and grandchildren. The amenities and diverse services that will be offered will become a reality for our community over the next several years. I know that these may be secondary concerns, if at all, to the conservationists and environmentalists.
Those who tell me that they care about the river seem to think that they are the only ones that have the corner on wildlife and water. That is simply not true. We have taken a wholistic approach and looked at the various stockholders, like public schools, hospital services, public services and the environmental concerns. We have looked at the assurances of water for the future of our community. However not everyone is on board and that is an expected response. I read an ad in the paper that we are going to “kill the river”. Over the past several years I have attended the meetings, interviewed three hydrologists, talked with two experts on the San Pedro Valley Water and read various reports and the conclusion is that there is plenty of water. The environmental advocates make it sound like we have neglected to take the water issue seriously. I believe that the goal for those that submit these letters and ads is to get community to sympathize with the river and to ditch this project. I do not believe this is going to happen. We looked at all the parts that make up our community including our natural habitat.
Joanne Hageman made it sound like the City Council does not see the natural resources and the jewels that we have in the people who live here. Such as those who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of my friends are in the business community. She also made the statement that there is a “lack of transparency” with the City Council. Joanne, to find answers to the questions you have about the water, wildlife, taxes and who is going to pay for this; you will have to go to sources other than the call to the public. Council is not allowed by Arizona Statute to answer questions brought to us at the call to the public. All we can do is listen. This is not a good way to get your questions answered. The public is encouraged to call the City of Benson office and ask to speak to or meet with a specific council member. I am happy to answer questions. Although my answers may not be what people what to hear. I have addressed a couple of your question personally the morning I met with you at the Benson Chamber of Commerce Breakfast.
If you rely on the Call to the Public for your information, it is likely that at you will hear more of the same information shared by you concerning the river and the council’s stance on the call to the public. There is an assumption that the City Council are all in agreement when it came to the suspension of the Call the Public. I was opposed to the suspension of the Call to the Public from the start. I personally think that it is good to have the public speak to the Council. I tried to get it back on the agenda but could not. I did not find a councilmember to sponsor that agenda item with me. That is the way that our City Codes work. I mention this to let you know that Councilmembers question one another’s ideas and initiatives. Today, it isn’t a rubber stamp group and control was not handed over to the developer.
Here is a question for you. Have you and your friends taken into consideration that in 2015 and again in 2016 there were studies, public forums and input from the public concerning the preliminary general development plan. Issues like wildlife corridors, night sky preservation plans, water retention and recharge measures, 1 to 1 ½ acres per housing units, traffic control plans, again all made available to the public. That is not a lack of transparency. What I saw was the developers engaging the public using public forums, published information and the use of various media outlets. The water studies have passed through Army Corp of Engineers and Arizona Department of Water Resources three times. Due diligence was done six years ago. You can find these plans and studies as they are public documents.
I am sorry to disappoint – it is no secret that the City has helped commercial development get the permits and plans that meet our City Code and contact agreements. This is done for the small commercial developer as well. The agreements made between the City of Benson and El Dorado Benson are all public documents. What I find and the public will find is a lack of understanding on how to obtain these documents and how to contact members of the City Council rather than a lack of transparency.
I have served this community as Pastor of Grace Chapel Benson for the past 31 years, was on faculty at Cochise College, have served on various boards in the community and now two years as your representative on the Benson City Council. I am looking to see our community blessed in every responsible way.
Lupe U. Diaz
City of Benson Councilman